NEW YORK — Bob Woodward of Watergate fame took a rough poll of the audience sitting through his keynote presentation yesterday at DMD New York.
He wanted to know how many in the audience voted for George W. Bush, Al Gore or for Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections. The show of hands found a split down the middle for Bush and Gore. One hand went up for Nader.
Next, Woodward wanted to know how many thought Bush's economic policy was flawed. More hands were against the president's policy than for it. Finally, he wanted to know who thought the war on Iraq was wise. There were far fewer hands against the war.
“That was a trick question,” Woodward said. “I wanted to see if there are rich, war-mongering Republicans [in the audience].”
With his doubts cleared, Woodward lamented the state of journalism before discussing the Bush presidency.
Citing Katherine Graham, the late owner of The Washington Post, where he is the assistant managing editor, Woodward said she had a “minds-on, hands-off” approach. Graham's attitude greatly helped journalists like him to investigate the truth behind Watergate.
One luxury reporters had in those days was time. Woodward would take two to three weeks to file a story. Now, stories must be turned around for immediate posting on the media Web site.
Woodward decried “this obsession with the news business for the most immediate … we go along and churn the little incremental things that go on.”
There certainly is an unwillingness to say that a subject is really hard to understand. Bankrupt energy company Enron was a case in point.
“There were signals,” Woodward said, “[but the media] reported like stenographers what the Enron people said.”
Turning to Bush, Woodward said the first year of a presidency gives a fair view of the leader's qualities. Bush's first year largely was undefined. It took the Sept. 11 tragedy to give him his presidency.
“A president must define the next stage of good for the majority of the country,” Woodward said.
Great presidents, he said, have displayed courage and leadership, and “a willingness to walk the road alone or a willingness to walk that road alone for a long time.”
Few approved at the time when President Lincoln warred to preserve the Union. Posterity has a different opinion, Woodward said, looking on the Civil War as one of the most courageous acts in the country's history.
Seared by the largest act of terrorism on civilians on U.S. soil, Bush soon embarked on the war on terrorism and Afghanistan. It was around this time that Woodward sent the White House a 20-page memo of questions for his book. National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice called. Woodward was invited to Bush's ranch in Crawford, TX.
The ranch interview was to last one hour. Instead, Bush spent 3 1/2 hours answering 300 questions and another 30 minutes on a tour of the ranch.
“The longest interview a sitting president has given,” Woodward was told.
Woodward's new book from longtime publisher Simon & Schuster will dwell on the period from 9/11 to Iraq. The philosophy of Bush is to protect the country, Woodward said. His vision is black or white. There are those who are for the United States, and those who harbor or support terrorists.
“He has picked a direction,” Woodward said.